MasterCard International has landed a two-year sponsorship of the World Figure Skating Championships, which began Sunday in Alberta, Canada.
The agreement came a month and a half after Visa International's advertising campaign for the summer Olympics began in earnest, and it was seen as a countermove.
"They're about to be faced with an onslaught of Visa advertisements," said Jim Andrews, vice president of IEG Sponsorship Report, a Chicago-based newsletter. He called MasterCard's most recent sponsorship a "defense move to counter the hype we're about to see and hear as we move into the Olympic season.
"A lot of consumers equate figure skating with the Olympics," Mr. Andrews said, "so consumers will identify MasterCard with an Olympic-type event."
Told of that assertion, Marianne Fulgenzi, a spokeswoman for MasterCard, responded: "No, not at all. We've never entered a sponsorship that way."
MasterCard said it is adding this event to a list of sponsorships that includes the 1998 World Cup soccer tournament in France, the National Hockey League, NASCAR auto racing, and golf events such as the MasterCard Colonial and MasterCard PGA Grand Slam.
As the official card for the event, MasterCard will have worldwide rights to the World Figure Skating Championships logo and get global exposure through rink boards visible on telecasts.
"Figure skating ranks as one of television's most popular sports, which makes it an attractive property for MasterCard, primarily in terms of reinforcing brand image and awareness globally," said Mava K. Heffler, senior vice president for MasterCard's global promotions and sponsorships, in a statement.
Mark Mandel, director of media relations at ABC Sports, which will broadcast the seven-day event, said more than 31 million people tuned in to the event on a peak Saturday last year when it was carried by NBC.
"MasterCard is a global company, and figure skating is as hot a sport as there is on television," Mr. Mandel said. "They are reaching this audience."
Mr. Andrews estimated that the deal cost $150,000 and would indirectly boost MasterCard volume.
"They can't count on a direct sales gain, but indirectly, the long-term effects will be positive," he said. "Signing on at the last minute, they wouldn't be able to see an actual volume or dollar increase."